Marti Brown is executive director of the North Franklin District Business Association.

Viewpoints: Halfway house in south Sacramento neighborhood doesn't make sense

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 11A
Last Modified: Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 - 1:23 pm

Everyone deserves a second chance. But how can Martin Luther King Boulevard and 43rd Avenue be an appropriate location for a federal parolee re-entry center in a neighborhood with nearly double the state's violent crime rate, a 14 percent to 20 percent unemployment rate, a lack of social services and support systems, a concentration of low-income families struggling to make ends meet, and poor public transportation infrastructure?

It doesn't make sense.

The application to operate a federal parolee re-entry program in the North Franklin District must be evaluated within the context of current neighborhood conditions. In addition to the socioeconomic and social challenges mentioned above, the neighborhood has been fending off a series of attacks on its remaining social fabric.

For example, the district recently successfully opposed a proposal for a homeless shelter intended to relocate those displaced from downtown redevelopment. In addition, the district now faces elementary school closures and dramatic job loss due to the shutdown of the Campbell Soup plant – this neighborhood's equivalent of a military base closure. To further exacerbate the situation, public transportation in the district is fragmented and disconnected, leaving residents few transportation options in a community where one in five households do not have a car.

Given these dynamics, the proposed project must be assessed and evaluated within the context of decades of economic and social disinvestment that continues to shape the south Sacramento landscape.

However, there is one ray of hope for the residents of the Franklin area. Federal guidelines require determining whether the facility's location will have an adverse impact on the community or residents. And it is the responsibility of Sacramento County to conduct a transparent assessment and determination of the project's impact on the surrounding neighborhood. In addition, good public policy demands that the neighborhood be made aware of the data and methodology used to make the final evaluation and determination as to whether this is an appropriate location for the project.

It would be a mistake to assume that the county could properly conduct such an assessment in the 10 days provided between the Planning Commission's Feb. 11 and Thursday meetings. Such an assessment requires consideration of the area's current economic development planning process.

While it's true neither the city nor county is actively engaged in economic development planning in the area, the North Franklin District Business Association is developing its own plan and strategy to redress south Sacramento's years of urban planning neglect, as well as defend itself from becoming a "sacrifice zone" while other communities in the greater Sacramento area economically develop and thrive.

Regional leaders are working to implement the Sacramento region's 25-year Blueprint, attempting to address regional equity and building sustainable communities. And now we have the Next Economy that encourages growth by promoting high-skilled job clusters that can reboot the region's economic health.

Will one of these job clusters be located in the Franklin Boulevard area? We doubt it. And a correctional facility job cluster doesn't count, nor is it part of the North Franklin District's economic development plan.

Urban planning and economic development are not business-centered;they are people-centered. Urban planning must take this approach instead of reducing the task of rebuilding a community to an administrative process that omits community visioning and planning.

Storing prisoners in this neighborhood is not sound urban planning and economic development. This is not the regional job cluster we want, nor does it promote sustainability and equity – two key elements of current Blueprint planning. Instead, it sends a dire and telling message that North Franklin is not worthy of receiving the same attention and sound urban planning and economic development as Folsom, Natomas and Laguna.

The actions of the Sacramento County Planning Commission on Thursday will send a clear message as to whether this community is part of the region or remains Sacramento's dumping ground for the social ills and challenges that no other community will accept.

Reducing the lack of planning to a confrontation between residents and the applicant distracts from our unmet responsibility and due diligence as a community – from the streets and playgrounds of our neighborhoods to the halls of our governing institutions – to work together and equally contribute to the successful future of south Sacramento.

Give North Franklin residents the chance to rebuild and strengthen their community so they, too, can benefit from the very equity and sustainability that the region's Blueprint and Next Economy champion.

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